Talladega offers unique challenges this race

Monday's Texas race started a little slow because of the Sunday rainout, but with the lineup we had there was a mixed bag of comers-and-goers. There were several factors in the race, including the new spoiler. It was re-introduced by NASCAR starting at Martinsville a few weeks ago, but this really was the first big test for it on a 1.5-mile, very fast track. I think it worked out just fine.

Was it perfect? No, I don't think anyone would say that, but at the same time it wasn't disastrous either. I think you have to applaud the teams and drivers for adapting to it. It also looked like the tire combination that was brought there was pretty good. So from a jumping-off point, I think we had a great start. There will be ways to improve this package as we move forward through the rest of the season.

So now we head to Talladega with it this weekend. It's clearly one of those places where you hold on tight and see what happens. The teams only have that one test there with the new spoiler. NASCAR has made some minor adjustments since everyone left there. The thing to remember about that joint, just because you tested there and think everything is great, once you get back down there it still might have some surprises for you.

I suspect some of the early practices at Talladega, which will be on Speed, will probably be some of the most exciting practices we will see all year long. Things are just so unpredictable there. Plus you have to factor in that, unlike in the test session, the teams will have their best cars and best motors ready go.

Now don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the return of the spoiler. I think it is safe to say everyone in the sport loves that the spoiler is back. It's just a challenge right now. The challenge comes from not having enough practical application on this new car yet. Information is being shared and analyzed by all the teams and NASCAR, but once again, until you get more races under your belt with it, you simply don't know what you have.

Honestly my biggest concern is Mother Nature. If she comes into play eliminating practice and qualifying, then we face running this race at Talladega, of all places, with no time on the track with this new package. Having to rely on only the notes from the test could really stress out NASCAR, the drivers and the teams. So in the big picture of things, if there is any kind of overriding fear factor, it would have to be if Mother Nature plays a hand in things this weekend.

Ready to go

The other thing that is apparent and fun to watch is when it gets down to crunch time, these drivers seem to find a little bit extra and aren't afraid to lay it all out on the line. We are clearly seeing with all these green-white-checker situations just how aggressive these guys are willing to be to win a race.

Jeff Gordon on Monday is one that jumps to mind. I was very impressed with what I saw him do behind the wheel of that No. 24 car. I think it is just a matter of time before we see Jeff in Victory Lane this year. The team is improving, but unfortunately it looked like his pit stops got him in some trouble Monday. Those were up and down when they didn't need to be.

A bit of trouble on that last pit stop influenced Jeff getting caught up in the big wreck. Jimmie Johnson was able to get through the wreck, but Jeff wasn't. Had he beaten Jimmie off pit road and been able to start in the inside line, maybe Jeff would have come home the winner.

You also have to tip your hat to Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only did Denny Hamlin win the Cup race Monday, but Kyle Busch won the Nationwide race later that day. In addition to all that, all three of the Gibbs teams are in the top 12 in points. Over at Hendrick Motorsports, on the heels of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s eighth-place finish Monday, for the first time ever Hendrick has all four cars in the top 12.

I think folks should also keep an eye on Roush Fenway Racing because I think it is going to be making some noise soon. Additionally, watch Paul Menard. He won't go away. He could be one of those guys that is the sleeper of the 2010 season. He might sneak up and surprise some folks.